Jewish Athletes Recieve Warm Welcome at Shanghai Special Olympics
When the Special Olympics foundation needed a way to make Jewish athletes feel welcome at the 2007 games in Shanghai, they contacted the Israeli Consulate, who in turn, passed the torch to Chabad.
Special Olympians, all with intellectual disabilities like autism and Down syndrome, are competing in gymnastics, aquatics, judo, and an array of other events. Israel’s team, its entourage of family members and trainers, total about 100 people.
“We jumped at the opportunity to be as helpful as we can,” said Chabad of Shanghai representative Dina Greenberg. Chabad organized Shanghai's Jewish community and led the efforts in coordination with the Israeli consulate and the Special Olympics committee to make arrangements for all Jewish athletes from around the world.
“We are trying to do everything we can to make them feel like they are coming to a Jewish family, arms wide open and waiting for them,” she said. That means taking care of individual needs as well, she explained, from providing translators, transportation, and even to paying for accomodations that some of the family members could not afford.
Beginning with the thoughtfully prepared welcome baskets that greeted each of the athletes, to some 1,000-plus kosher meals that will be delivered to members of the delegation and their families over the course of the two weeks, and hosting them for Shabbat and the remainder of the Sukkot holiday, Chabad has rolled out the red carpet for the Jewish athletes.
For some, like former NBA star Sam Perkins, who admitted that this was his first Shabbat dinner ever, it was a spiritual welcome as well. Simchat Torah coincided with the first days of the Olympics, and became a rare opportunity for many of the athletes.
"It was quite moving," Rabbi Shalom Greenberg told Lubavitch.com, "to have the soccer delegation celebrate Simchat Torah with us, and to see them dancing with the Torah scrolls."
President of the International Special Olympics Mr. Jay Emmett, was among the 200 guests at the Shanghai Jewish Center-Chabad for the official welcoming dinner last Friday night. He came, he said, to enjoy a good Shabbat dinner, and then he stayed to the end participating in the warm atmosphere.
Chabad is also rooting for the Israeli delegation and encouraging the Jews of Shanghai to do the same. "We've been sending out emails to the local community to go to the competitive games and support the Jewish athletes," says Rabbi Greenberg.
Delegation representatives touched by the hospitality, thanked Chabad and the individuals who played a key role in the welcome efforts, among them Mr. Maurice Ohana, Ms. Rotem Ende, Mr. Elliot Gerstler, Deputy Consul General of Israel Mr. Amir Lati and Rabbi Shalom Greenberg.
Rabbi Shalom and Dini Greenberg have been serving Shanghai's Jewish community since 1998, closing a circle that began in 1928, when Russian Jews living in Shanghai after fleeing the pogroms in Russia, invited Rabbi Meir Ashkenazi, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, to lead their community.